HANCOCK COUNTY — Need gasoline? Better fill up soon.
Indiana’s gasoline tax increases by 10 cents per gallon Saturday to raise funding for road construction projects across the state. Also taking effect Saturday is an additional $15 fee for new vehicle registrations for Hoosier drivers.
They are among at least 45 different taxes and fees imposed or increased by Indiana lawmakers during this year’s legislative session, which wrapped up in April.
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Starting Saturday, the state’s gasoline tax jumps from 18 to 28 cents per gallon every time drivers fuel up their vehicles. Coupled with other new fees, the increase will generate $1.2 billion more annually to fix Indiana’s deteriorating roads.
Experts say the increase will be minimal. Most cars have 12- to 16-gallon gas tanks, which will cost Hoosiers an additional $1.20 to $1.60 for a full tank. Lawmakers estimated for the average driver, the increase will cost about $4 a month.
It’s a small amount lawmakers said will pay big dividends, though local officials say they’re still waiting for official numbers.
Hancock County Highway Engineer Gary Pool said his preliminary calculations show the increases will funnel an additional $1.5 million into the county’s road maintenance budget in 2018 — money that will cover paving and crack-sealing for 30 more miles of roads outside city and town limits.
Lawmakers who championed efforts to raise the gasoline tax, last adjusted in 2003, say doing so made sense — Hoosiers who drive on Indiana’s roads most often should pay to maintain them.
Lawmakers spent nearly four months debating funding options for repairing roads across the state before deciding to increase the tax.
Bringing Indiana’s local roads and streets to fair or better condition would cost about $775 million annually for the next decade, a study by Purdue University’s Indiana Local Technical Assistance Program found.
The funding created during this year’s legislative session is a good start toward achieving that goal, local officials say.
And most Hoosiers won’t notice the increase, said Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.
People might spot a higher gasoline price this holiday weekend, but the 10-cent increase is within the range of the typical daily fluctuation in gasoline prices, so most people won’t notice the difference in the long run, Hicks said.
Hancock County native Kelly Jackson-Lhotka, a Southport resident who drives to Greenfield often to visit family members, encouraged residents to think positively about the increase.
She thinks about her father, a semitrailer driver who recently told her he was considering quitting his job. The potholes and bumps marking some interstates and highway jostle his vehicle, leaving him sore after a long day on the road, she said.
Improving road conditions across the state, making it easier for people like her dad, will be worth every extra penny she pays at the pump, she said.
Pool said while he understands nobody likes increased taxes, he hopes county residents feel better about the hike knowing the funding is going toward repairing roads they use every day.
Next year, the county is expected to receive $5.13 million from the state, up from the $3.55 million last year, to invest in county road projects.
That extra funding will allow county highway crews to work on 120 to 140 miles of road every year. Historically, the money the county received covered maintenance projects on about 90 miles of road, Pool said.
And local officials had annually been padding their budget with $500,000 from the county’s general fund, used to pay the county’s everyday expenses, in an effort to make more headway on road maintenance.
But that wasn’t a long-term solution, Pool said. Increasing the gas tax and other fees provides sustainable funding, he said.
He hopes the extra money Hancock County residents pay at the pump going forward will be offset by savings in car maintenance and repairs, like fixing flat tires or rims after hitting a pothole, which cost the average Hoosier about $491 annually, according to state lawmakers.
“It won’t be instantaneous. It’s going to take time, but I hope over the years, the improvements are worth it,” Pool said.